Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

50° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our email newsletter in your inbox.



Walk-Ons Welcome (Women’s Tennis)

By Jake SimpsonThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern’s players and coaches have traveled many roads to get to Evanston’s Combe Tennis Center. They’ve come from all across the country, and some hail from as far away as England.

But no player’s journey has been longer than sophomore Jen Taylor’s.

Unlike the other eight players on the sixth-ranked Wildcats’ roster, Taylor did not come to NU on an athletic scholarship. Instead, the sophomore walked on to Northwestern’s elite program, defying the odds through determination and countless days of hard work.

“Every day I am so thankful I took the chance (to join the team) even though the odds were against me,” Taylor said. “It’s been absolutely worth it.”

While Taylor, 20, is ninth on the Cats’ depth chart, she has become a vital part of NU’s roster and has earned the respect of her teammates and coaches.

“She goes out on the court every day in practice and impresses everyone with her hard work,” coach Claire Pollard said. “If I were ranking the hardest-working players on our team, she’d be right up there.”

Taylor has a bubbly, friendly manner, and during a dual match she can be heard throughout SPAC encouraging her teammates. But the sophomore’s friendly nature belies an unbending will, which helped Taylor overcome the obstacles between her and NU varsity tennis.

Taylor’s hunger and determination drove her to persevere when her college tennis future appeared bleak. While the sophomore from Mequon, Wis., was the strongest player at her high school, the University School of Milwaukee, few believed she could improve enough to compete at the college level.

The low point came in her senior year of high school, when her coach casually said, “You’ll never play at Northwestern.”

The comment, a slap in the face from her tennis mentor, could have broken Taylor’s spirit. Instead, it motivated her to work harder.

“That summer, when I was practicing,” she said, “I was thinking, ‘You know, I’ve got nothing to lose. Hopefully I can prove (the coach) wrong.'”

When Taylor arrived at NU in the fall of 2005, she immediately set out to make the varsity team. The only non-scholarship player to even try out, she impressed coach Claire Pollard with her hustle and her raw talent.

“It was clear she had desire and intensity and a passion to get better,” Pollard said. “Anyone would want to work with that.”

Taylor had made varsity, but her journey was not complete. She began to practice with the team in January 2006, playing alongside the likes of current star Georgia Rose and the now-graduated Cristelle Grier.

Early on, Taylor struggled to find her niche on the team, as she balanced a demanding pre-med schedule with the many commitments of a varsity sport.

“It’s hard and I don’t get much sleep,” the sophomore said of balancing the demands on her time.

Taylor improved the hard way, practicing alongside some of the nation’s elite players. The top-flight competition proved invaluable to Taylor; she improved every facet of her game in the winter and spring of 2006.

At the same time, Taylor grew closer to her fellow players, who gained increasing respect for their new teammate because of her drive.

“She just works so hard,” sophomore Nazlie Ghazal said. “We respect that.”

In the fall of 2007, Taylor competed as a Wildcat for the first time. Walking onto the court in front of her family and friends, Taylor had beaten the odds and proven her high school coach wrong with two and a half years to spare.

“To be out there on the court with my teammates cheering for me was an unbelievable experience,” she said.

Taylor now is an integral part of NU’s powerhouse program, as much a member of the team as any other player. But in keeping with her exceptional drive and will to improve, the sophomore will continue to work just as hard.

Taylor’s positive personality and constant hustle are among the many qualities that endear the sophomore to her teammates. Unsure at first of Taylor’s commitment, her fellow players now have fully embraced her.

“We all admire how much she has on her plate, and how much she’s given to the team,” Rose said. “It shows how hard work can pay off.”

The other players expressed particular admiration for her willingness to put the team first at every turn. Despite the knowledge that she most likely will not start at all this year, Taylor continues to work just as hard, putting the good of the team before her own ambitions.

“When I go to practice, I think, ‘What can I do today to contribute to this program,'” she said. “And if that means giving my all or just encouraging my teammates to play their best, that’s what I’ll do.”

As far as Taylor has come, she is more excited about what lies ahead. The sophomore plans to continue improving her game, and Pollard said that Taylor could be considered for the starting lineup in singles next season.

“It’s been an incredible year,” Taylor said.

Reach Jake Simpson at [email protected].

More to Discover
Activate Search
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Walk-Ons Welcome (Women’s Tennis)